Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Prepping Your Place for Pandemic-Era Buyers

For millennials living through the pandemic, it’s a tale of two economies.

One cohort, including those with jobs tied to tourism -- hospitality, retail and restaurants -- are struggling professionally. Yet others with stable careers adaptable to remote work are enjoying excellent financial prospects. It’s this latter group that’s hankering to buy their first home and finance it at record-low mortgage rates. And their choices have increased dramatically with the growing acceptance of working from home.

Mark Nash, a real estate analyst and author of “1001 Tips for Buying & Selling a Home,” says, “The crisis has at least opened up the opportunity for so many young professionals to pick their favorite town without having to give up their jobs,” says Nash, a longtime real estate broker.

In coveted communities, affordable properties are in acutely short supply and demand is high, particularly from millennial-age purchasers still seeking to step onto the first rung of the homeownership ladder. But Nash cautions sellers against overconfidence.

“Remember that a multitude of young buyers are now exploring a wider array of housing possibilities. So, as sellers, it’s essential you’re mindful of their preferences when presenting your place for sale,” he says.

At the Pulte Group, a national home-construction company, staff researchers recently surveyed millennial-age buyers on their “must-haves” in a new home.

The Pulte survey concludes that “across all features, yard size, garage storage, floor plans and kitchen design are universally most important.” What’s more, it says an open floor plan is a key requirement for 46% of those in this age group, born between 1981 and 1996.

Rich Carlson, who heads Carlson Communications (, a marketing firm that advises homebuilders, says that when faced with a crisis, buyers want properties with a roomier feel.

“The world may be a frightening place, but at home people want plenty of space to be gregarious with friends and family,” Carlson says.

All who put their homes on the market should strive to make them appear as spacious as possible, says Dorcas Helfant, the co-owner of several Coldwell Banker real estate offices.

“The fact is that most purchasers want as much light, space and storage as they can get,” says Helfant, a past president of the National Association of Realtors (

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Highlight the features that present-day buyers appreciate.

Carlson says several features that provide a feeling of openness and space resonate especially well with current buyers.

Among the strongest draws: oversized “great rooms” that link to kitchens and provide ample space for casual entertaining, soaring atriums and walk-in closets.

“If you have any of these features, you should highlight them in your advertising and promotional materials,” Carlson says.

-- Remove extra possessions to make your place look larger.

Helfant, who’s been involved in a number of international real estate transactions, says Americans typically own far more clothes than do Europeans.

“Most people have four to five times as many clothes as they actually wear,” she says.

She says it’s tough to convince sellers to dispense with more than a few clothes. But at the minimum, she urges sellers to place all their out-of-season clothes in storage until their property is sold.

“It’s crucial that your closets be thinned out and orderly. Prospective buyers should be able to see clearly to the back wall of all your closets and kitchen cabinets,” she says.

Helfant also encourages sellers to pay special attention to the clutter that can build up in a bedroom that’s been adapted to home office use.

“Buyers don’t want to see all your stacks of paper and messy office supplies strewn about,” she says.

-- Improve the illumination of your home.

“Light is the No. 1 draw for people,” according to Helfant, who says most home sellers can benefit from upgrading key light fixtures, including those at their property’s entrance and in heavily used rooms, such as the kitchen and bathrooms.

Where lighting is plentiful, living space seems larger, and attractive lighting also elevates the mood of a room.

-- Focus special attention on your windows.

In past decades, many buyers liked the look of formal draperies, particularly in dining and living rooms. But nowadays most would-be purchasers prefer their windows “au naturel,” or nearly so.

As Helfant notes, windows with minimal coverings usually seem more appealing to visitors because they allow more light to penetrate a room. In fact, she says it’s now perfectly acceptable to market a home with no window coverings at all, except in bathrooms and bedrooms where privacy is an issue.

Windows that are barely covered and kept sparkling clean do more than make for bright rooms. They allow visitors a more expansive view of a home’s surroundings.

“Especially now during the pandemic, people think of their home as their kingdom. They don’t want to feel confined. They want an exquisitely clear view through their windows,” Helfant says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at